Northern California indie auteur Alejandro Adams crafts another distinctive, intriguing no-budget drama in “Babnik.” Though this third feature is both his most conventional and least satisfying, its cryptic narrative about organized crime and entrapment among Russian emigres still sports an arresting quasi-verite flavor. Unlikely to be Adams’ breakout, it should further his fest profile.
Protags are recent Russian immigrants, variably sinking or swimming in sunny California, enriched or victimized by their own criminal underground; their precise relationships, business operations and even names are clarified spottily, if at all. While answerable to bosses of their own, types like creepy Artem (Artem Mishin) and noxious wife Yelena (Yelena Segal) have flourishing dealings in prostitution, drugs and human trafficking. They easily snare angry young Arseniy (Arseniy Arkhipov) in a rigged gambling debt, even as they lure his antagonistic teen sister (Nika Gambarin) toward dubious “modeling” work. Adams’ fresh eye and ear, and his way with mostly non-pro thesps hold attention. But the tale’s surface thriller elements and chilly evasion of character insight or narrative explication ultimately clash rather than complement one another, especially at the violent yet murky close.